Even though they opened at the very end of 2012, Cotto Wine Bar is one of Downtown Stamford’s mainstays. Ever since they cracked open the doors, Cotto has seen busy happy hours and dinner services, plus a buzzing atmosphere. Approximately two years ago, they earned a “Very Good” rating from The New York Times.
If you’ve never made the trip to Bank Street, expect a trendy, urban décor complete with exposed brick walls, and community tables. Cotto’s style resembles wine bars in Rome, where its owners, Claudio and Silvy Ridolfi were born and raised. In fact, the vintage photos and magazine covers scattered about are of Silvy’s mother, an Italian actress and model in the 60s and 70s.
The wine selection — because that’s what you’re curious about — is a large one. We’re talking more than 400 bottles of vino, all divided by regions of Italy. Upwards of 20 are available by the glass. Should you require wine assistance, that’s no problem, just ask Ian Toogood for help, he’s Cotto’s general manager who doubles at the restaurant’s sommelier.
What’s new at Cotto — if sipping wine at a wine bar doesn’t strike your fancy — is the cocktail program, developed by bartender Eric Bufo. The cocktail menu will have a seasonal approach, using fresh ingredients, and Bufo’s homemade infusions that include syrups, liquors, and even herb and fruit waters. You’ll taste those infusions in the herbaceous Sage Advice (burned sage infused tequila, muddled preserved lemon, pineapple juice, Combier, Chambord, grapefruit bitters), a drink on the bitter side, perfect if you’re not into anything sweet. Another popular choice is the Blackberry Crosta (cognac, Grand Marnier, blackberry, lemon juice, lavender bitters), a punch-like drink served in an orange sugar crusted glass. One I really liked, is Old Towne Hall (bourbon, black cherry syrup, lime juice, chocolate bitters). It’s strong, but smooth with a touch of sweetness, and according to Bufo, “tastes like Black Forest cake.”
At any wine bar, you should start should start with small plates. That’s not a problem at Cotto, where the classic Italian menu is highlighted by two dozen different. Included are favorites like potato croquettes, meatballs, mussels fra diavolo, and crispy fried calamari. Noteworthy is Cotto’s antipasti and mozzarella bar highlighted by an array of cured meats and cheeses like Jamon Serrano ham, wild boar salami, prosciutto, and crispy house-made porchetta, smoked mozzarella, and Burrata.
For dinner, don’t miss one of Cotto’s traditional pastas like the creamy, cheesy, and peppery cacio e pepe, that uses homemade tonnarelli (like spaghetti, but with squared corners as opposed to round). You could opt for yolk-covered carbonara, or one of the area’s best executed bucatini all’Amatriciana dishes, with a bright, acidic red sauce, chunks of guanciale, and adequately spicy, as it should be. There are four brick-oven baked pizzas that go from the standard Margherita, to a scarpariello pizza topped with chicken, sausage, and plenty of spicy cherry peppers. In the meat and fish category try the pan-seared Branzino with crispy skin, Amish chicken roasted in the brick oven, or grilled lamb chops that are perfectly seared, tender, and drizzled with tangy balsamic.
Stay for dessert and indulge in tiramisu, or the airy ricotta torte with candied pear, but make sure you pair those treats with multiple sips of the citrusy, pleasantly boozy limoncello, made in-house by Toogood.
Almost five years later Cotto is still a neighborhood favorite, but it’s worth the short drive from Westchester to Stamford. Get here for great happy hour deals, perhaps a quiet date night dinner, or with a group to try to get through all the small plates.
Cotto Wine Bar
51 Bank St, Stamford